After suffering through 15 years of former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s bizarre antics and deadly incompetence, residents have the opportunity to turn the department into one they can be proud of by electing Earnell Lucas.
Clarke resigned last September to take a position with a pro-Trump super PAC. Since then Richard Schmidt, who was Clarke’s second in command, has been interim sheriff.
Lucas, Schmidt and Robert Ostrowski, a 16-year veteran of the MCSO, will square off in an Aug. 14 Democratic primary. With no Republican running, the primary winner likely will be the next sheriff.
We believe Schmidt is compromised by his association with Clarke. Only an outsider, one with a fresh perspective, can clean up the dysfunctional, low-morale department that Clarke left behind.
Lucas is the candidate who can restore order and integrity to the office. It’s rare to find a candidate with the breadth and depth of his experience. Thoughtful, plainspoken and likable, he also possesses a dignity befitting the office he seeks.
Lucas lived for a time in Milwaukee’s Hillside Terrace public housing development, but his mother moved him to the Harambee neighborhood following the 1967 riots. She died when he was about 12, and his grandmother moved from Alabama to raise him.
He wasn’t much older than 12 when a chance encounter with a Milwaukee patrol officer, who stopped him on suspicion of stealing a woman’s purse, piqued his interest in a law-enforcement career.
His first day on the job, he ran into that same officer.
“I walked up to him and introduced myself and told him that he’d had a part in why I joined the police department,” Lucas says. “He never rose above police officer, but he’s one of the most successful in my mind because he did his job with integrity and honor.”
The two have since become friends.
On New Year’s Day in 1982, Lucas was responding to a domestic call when he was shot with a 12-gauge shotgun in the face — he still has pellets in his orbital bone.
But Lucas was undeterred. After six months of recuperation, he felt the need “to get back out there.” At 23, he had big responsibilities — a wife, a 2-year-old son and a 2-week-old daughter.
He went on to rise to the position of captain with the Milwaukee Police Department. Lucas also graduated from the FBI National Academy and the Northwestern University Traffic Institute School of Police Staff and Command.
The worst scandal under Clarke’s watch was a series of seven deaths at Milwaukee County Jail due to the negligence, some of it intentional. Reforming the jail’s operations is one of Lucas’ top priorities.
“We’ve got to change the paradigm where there was no respect for the workers, and that resulted in the failed practices that led to the deaths in the jail,” Lucas says.
“A number of deputies were working multiple shifts (at the jail), and I know that is only going to lead to stress and fatigue,” he added. “Deputies were not receiving adequate training and resources. I’ll put in place policies and procedures that adequately (support) workers and inmates.”
Clarke saw the penal system as strictly a tool for punishment. Lucas believes it should both punish and rehabilitate.
“It is our hope and intent that Milwaukee County Jail is a place where a person comes once and decides he or she doesn’t want to return,” Lucas says. “We’re going to have the goal of returning the individual as a productive member of society.”
His other priorities include returning more patrol cars to the freeways and renewing relationships with the county’s 19 municipalities. Clarke had stopped meeting with them.
Such relationships, Lucas says, are central to coordinating effective responses to emergencies. Maintaining the relationships is a critical part of the sheriff’s job.
In the majors
Inter-agency communication happens to be one of Lucas’ specialties. After 25 years on the MPD, he retired from the force in 2002 and went to work as a security supervisor for Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
Within a few years, he was promoted to MLB’s chief liaison for security and investigations. In that role, Lucas is responsible for coordinating the security operations of 30 MLB teams and 256 Minor League teams with a combined fan base of 235 million.
Lucas works with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense. Among his duties is protecting baseball from gambling and helping arrange the use of stadiums for shelters in emergencies, such as hurricanes.
Holding such a high-profile position for so many years has prepared Lucas for the very public role of sheriff.
When he announced his candidacy last year, he was planning to take on Clarke at the polls. The media acknowledged Lucas as Clarke’s first serious challenger.
He entered first, and now it’s in Milwaukee County’s best interest that he finishes first Aug. 14.
Only you can make that happen.
Wisconsin Gazette endorses Earnell Lucas for sheriff.
Read more about Earnell Lucas and connect with the campaign at www.lucasformke.com.